Cigarette-advertising liberties

The tobacco industry over the years has employed some interesting tactics in an effort to inveigle prospects into using its products, preferably a particular brand.

Cigarette companies have counted largely on image advertising to draw people into their web. The Marlboro Man was created to appeal to men’s macho aspirations, Joe Camel was designed to lure young smokers, and women were the targets of the Virginia Slims “You’ve come a long way, Baby” campaign.

The industry suffered what probably should have been a crippling setback in 1964, when medical proof was discovered that smoking contributed to lung cancer. The industry survived, though, because of the stubbornness of its consumers.

Years later, advertising was banned on television and in radio, and those image ads were left to only print media. Compounding Big Tobacco’s problems were the new image ads that anti-smoking advocates created pointing out the unattractive side of smoking — the smell, second-hand smoke and that cough.

Worse yet for Big Tobacco was that health departments began pointing out the severe health consequences of smoking. Television ads along those lines have been poignant and even disgusting, showing the actual effects of cigarette smoke on internal organs.

Advertising trends these days are a long way from the advertisements of a generation ago. Before that, the ads were even more deceiving. There was little effort back in the 1950s, for example, to adhere strictly to the truth. Reason often gave way to convenience, as well.

An ad by the American Tobacco Co., maker of Lucky Strike cigarettes, was aired on “The Jack Benny Show” on radio back in 1952. Its message sounds ridiculous today, but it probably sold some cigarettes.

This was the ad:

“Here is an important message from the National Tobacco Tax Research Council. Smokers, next time you buy cigarettes, remember that over 800,000 tobacco farm families thank you for contributing to their support, and remember also that you support your government — federal, state and local. When you buy a pack of cigarettes, the federal government gets 8 cents. Most local and state governments get 3 or 4 cents more. That’s better than a 50 percent tax on every cigarette you smoke.

“Yes, in buying cigarettes, over half your packs go for tax.”

The National Tobacco Tax Research Council, if there even was such a group, was thus reporting that smoking was not only good for the families that grew the stuff, you were almost patriotic by puffing away. Governments were realizing important revenue that smokers could feel proud of.

Today, governments impose onerous taxes on cigarettes as an inhibitive measure and budget booster. What the government would lose in tax revenue if smokers quit, it would probably gain in Medicare and Medicaid payments that didn’t have to be made.

The idea of smoking being an altruistic or patriotic habit is, of course, lunacy. Smoking costs all Americans in government health subsidies, though that is nothing compared with what it costs smokers.


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